Monthly Theme: What Makes a Compelling Blurb?
What is a blurb?
A blurb is a brief description of your story, a text-based advertisement to attract a future reader. It either appears on the back cover or inside the front cover on a printed book, or is the second piece of information you will find on a website (after the cover and the title).
Why is it important?
Because, after the potential reader has admired your cover and clever title, they want to know what the book is about. If your blurb does not entice them, then they’re going to put it back on the shelf, or move on to the next option.
How can I write a compelling blurb?
- Keep it short, generally between 100-150 characters.
- Write in third person, present tense (generally, however, exceptions may apply).
- Be true to your genre and use words that cater to your audience. ie: If you are writing a romance, your blurb shouldn’t make it sound like a thriller.
- Your first sentence has to hook the reader, most easily done by getting them interested in the character or intrigued by the setting.
- Once the attention has been gained, it must be maintained. One easy way to do this is by following the basic formula below:
A. the main character (generally including one defining feature).
Here are some examples randomly selected from my book case.
- Nine-year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind.
- When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice…
- Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper has a fervent love of stories…
OR: the setting
- London is on the move again.
- Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.
- In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive…
With the character, you are seeking a way to connect with the reader, establishing the main protagonist as someone they wish to learn more about, and with the setting you are establishing a mystery: ie: is London literally moving? (yes, yes it is). You are endeavouring to engage with the reader and hook them in.
Tip: When trying to decide whether to focus on character or setting, ask yourself: which is more interesting? If unsure, write both and ask your friends/writing buddies/random strangers which they prefer.
Follow up with:
B. The problem
What goes wrong?
Tip: This is likely to be connected to the inciting incident of your story: it is the situation that takes your character from their previously predictable and reliable life and plunges them into the plot.
- Alas, the ship sinks – and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
And connect this with your protagonist and the actions he (or she) will have to take:
- Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?
You must end with mystery – don’t spoil the end!
Tip: Although many blurbs do end with a question, if the answer is simply “yes” then your blurb may have more power if, instead, the reader is made aware of the cost to the protagonist should they fail, or the price they will have to pay to succeed.
C. The Mood
Finally, many blurbs choose to conclude with a final paragraph conveying the Mood and indicating the intended genre or audience. Here, if you have not previously, the setting can be mentioned.
- Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.
Tip: Whilst it may seem logical (and is perfectly permissible) to start with the mood, you do run the risk of the reader going “oh, it’s a thriller, I don’t read thrillers” and proceed no further. Also, some readers may read the first sentence and the final paragraph before determining whether to read the middle.
What about Non-fiction?
Non-fiction blurbs are very diverse, depending on the genre.
- Memoirs and biographies can be written in much the same way as fiction blurbs.
- Manuals or guides for specialised topics can begin with:
- the author and their credentials (third person, present tense).
- with a series of questions (second person).
- by informing you (the reader) why you might like this book (second person).
Important things to note about writing non-fiction blurbs:
- Reach out to your intended audience and make your premise clear.
- Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about (list credentials/give an example).
- Include testimonials if you have them. Of not, it won’t hurt to get some!
Tip: If you can make an outrageous, but substantiated claim, then that is a great way to attract the reader’s attention. However, never lie or mislead your reader!
I intend to publish traditionally; do I still need a blurb?
Whilst it is true that, if traditionally published through a reputable publishing house, it is unlikely you will be writing your own blurb, first you have to get that publishing contract! Therefore, you still need a brief and enticing advertisement for your book.
Tip: Read a lot of blurbs before writing your own! Pick some randomly from your bookshelf or the library (or browse Amazon) and look at the structure. Try to determine what makes you pick them up or put them back. Specifically target books written in the same genre as yours: what do they have in common with each other, what are the differences? Are some more compelling than others?
Also, TEST your blurb, write several attempts, share them on a writers’ forum or with your friends, get feedback and make alterations accordingly.
Favourite first (or last) sentence in a blurb?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!
Book Release: Spectra
A monstrous child is born from the ground where a building fell. And the child is hungry…
A gladiator must make the ultimate choice, between freedom or friendship…
Deep in the heart of Brazil’s desert forest, the world’s rarest parrot is kidnapped by smugglers…
The Christchurch Writers’ Guild are pleased to announce the release of their second anthology, entitled Spectra: with all the different stories in the world begging to be told and all the genres and styles available for telling them, any community of writers is going to produce a spectra of stories. There is something for everyone in this collection of short fiction and poetry showcasing the interests and talents of members of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild.
Authors include: Shelley Chappell, Beaulah Pragg, J.L. O’Rourke, Kevin Berry, Ami Hart, Matty Angel, Jean Flannery, Jonathan Kingston-Smith, Mia Andrews, Philippa Drayton, Chris Visagee, Sille Mannion, and Angela Oliver.
Spectra is available on Amazon, in both ebook and paperback format. We will be creating a bulk order from Amazon in early February; if you are interested in purchasing a copy/copies, please drop us a line.
Special thanks to Kura Carpenter for designing the cover, and also to Philippa Drayton, Jenner Lichtwark and Shelley Chappell, for helping with the editing. Formatting was done by Angela Oliver.
Self Publishing? How to format your book
You’ve finished your book. It’s been edited thoroughly and all the typos and grammatical errors have, to the best of your knowledge, been removed. Well done!
You’ve eyed up the pros and cons of the self-publishing and traditional routes, and have decided — for whatever reasons— to go it alone, and do it yourself.
So, how to make your book look professional?
This step will vary depending on which site you’ve chosen to publish through. Some offer templates, which merely require a cut-and-paste, then a quick tidy through. If you’ve chosen an unusual trim size, or just want to maintain complete control, then here are a few steps you can follow to make your book look as professional as possible:
– First, adjust the page sizes of your manuscript to match those of the Trim Size you have chosen. Most writing programs should allow you to “custom” your page sizes. It will then reformat your entire work.
– Now, you must add in the front pages. For some ideas here, pick up the nearest book in your house and look at the way the front pages are set out:
(Odd numbered pages are on the right hand side, evens on the left. Therefore, even numbered pages are on the back of the odd numbered pages)
Page 1*: In some books this is merely the title, in others, a page of glowing reviews, others choose to put in a passage from the text that it particularly gripping.
Page 2*: Often blank, or you can list other books you have written here.
Page 3: Title page – shows title of book, author’s name etc
Page 4: Copyright details, ISBN, perhaps a dedication (unless you want that on the next page)
Page 5: Dedication or quote
Page 6: Blank, Map or other Illustration
Page 7: The story begins.
* My earlier self-published books skip these two pages, and start with the title page (meaning the story starts on page 5). There are a few traditionally published books that do this too, but not many.
> The story should always start on a right-hand page, even if this means leaving a page blank.
> Page numbers should not be on the pages before the story begins.
> Justify your text. Unjustified text in a printed book pretty much screams of amateur publishing (however, poetry and books written for dyslexics are the exception to this rule). After justifying it, you may like to look through for any sentences that have been stretched too long and manually add in hyphens/divided words. Do this after the ebook conversion, or you’ll find random hyphenated words in your ebook. Either that, or you can also adjust the kerning (the spaces between letters).
> Be consistent. Make sure your line-spacing remains consistent for the entire novel, that you don’t accidentally change font size or style, or the size of your margins.
Other Things to Consider:
Margins: I generally set the same margin left and right, with a larger gap top and bottom. You may choose to have a narrower margin along the gutter of the page. My margins are quite wide, which worked well when CreateSpace did one of my print runs at a smaller trim size (the books were still readable), but you may choose to make them narrower. Study printed novels of the appropriate size to determine your own, preferred, measurements.
Headers: I don’t really like Headers, and a random opening of my shelved books shows that not every traditionally published book has them anyway. If you do have Headers, remember to remove them from the pages which say “Chapter One” in them, or whatever. Otherwise they look poorly formatted and ugly.
Footers: Page Numbers are ESSENTIAL. The library needs to put a tag in your book on page 33, after all. You can center your page numbers or set all the left hand pages to the left hand side, and all the right hand to the right side.
Font: I prefer serif fonts for my manuscripts and all of my novels use Century Schoolbook. You can use Times New Roman, but it’s so common, it’s kinda blah. Century Schoolbook adds a bit of class (in my opinion!). Make sure the font you use is easy to read, also be aware that some fonts are not royalty free, meaning you can’t use them in something you’re making money from. If you set your font too large, it will look like a book for young kids or the elderly. If you set it too small, it is difficult to read. I use font size 10-12, Century Schoolbook for my novels. Note that font size (and line spacing) will affect your number of pages, and if you want a really thick book, you need a bigger font! (Which is why I think some traditionally published authors use such big text, either that or it is for their older readers!). Sans serif fonts (like Arial) are good for children’s books, however, as they are easier for dyslexics or those with reading difficulties.
Paragraphs: Note that after a line break, the first sentence of a paragraph is not indented, but all the rest are.
Line Spacing: I publish my middle grade books with spacing set to 1.5, because these make it easier to track the lines. In my adult books, I set it to 0.54, which allows some space between lines without looking too “childish”.
Chapter Headings: Make sure your fonts, size and style are consistent. Don’t write “Chapter One” then have “Chapter 2”, for example. Also note that changing the size of the font here may affect the way the text lines up at the bottom of the page, and it is preferable to have these consistent. For this purpose also, you should Kill all Widow and Orphan Control*. Adjust the font size of the Chapter headings until you can see that they line up in the PDF version. An easy way to do this is to make sure that the line spacing is proportional – ie: I usually set my line spacing to 0.54, which leaves a bit of a gap between lines, and for the headers I set it to 1.08 (2 x 0.54). This seems to work.
Adding Illustrations to Text: There are two sorts of ways you can include illustrations in the story – one is as a full page spread, the other is as little line drawings interspersed with the text. There’s no real rule to doing this, just make sure it looks right. Personally, from here-in I intend to draw my images at a size that is proportional to the page size so it will fit without having one or two sentences around it. Aroha and Midsummer Knight both have them mingled with the text, but for my Lemur Saga books, I’ve got them on full single pages at the end of the relevant chapters. Use lineart, or grey-scale your colour images first, to make sure they look right; you can make adjustments to brightness etc to make it clearer. If intermingling it with the text, use the “padding” option to provide a few millimetres of space around the image so that the text doesn’t run into it. Trying to get them to sit right on the page can be endlessly frustrating and I have no advice but perseverance. If you are also writing for ebook format, illustrations will mean the text on the page preceding may run for half a page or less, as they often (but not always) show up on an individual page. I have removed the illustrations from most of my ebooks, as it gives more incentive to buy the physical book.
* Widows and Orphans – when the page re-formats itself so that if you have two lines in a paragraph at the base of the page that would be left hanging, they get shifted up to the next page leaving a gap of two lines. They are the bane of my OpenOffice existence, since I want my text to line up at the base of the page, and I don’t care if there are only four words on the next page. I keep turning this off on OpenOffice, and it keeps coming back to haunt me.
Once you think you’re done – export your novel as a PDF file and look through it, to make sure everything looks as it should.
How Do I Get My Book Into a Bookstore?
You’ve finished and published your first book, congratulations!
But now what do you do with it?
Well, if you’ve published through an online program like CreateSpace, Blurb or Lulu, then your book will be available on their websites, plus any of their partners, but what if you’ve had 1000 copies printed offshore and they’re sitting in your garage? What if you just want to see it on the shelf somewhere?
The idea of seeing your book sitting on the shelf in either bookstores or libraries is definitely appealing, but the cold, hard truth of it is that it is both difficult and unlikely to help pay the bills. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!
Before approaching bookstores, you must have created the most professional looking book that you can; it must be almost indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. That means: well edited, properly printed and correctly formatted. It must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). If you are publishing through the aforementioned companies, they will provide you with one, otherwise you must acquire your own, and you must have the bar code to match it (back cover, bottom left or right hand side is the traditional placement). This is essential, as it is how the bookstore will catalogue your book. Some bookstores may also prefer it to be listed on Nielsen Book Data.
Then, do some research. Small, independent bookstores are more likely to be approachable. The big, chain stores do not always make their purchasing decisions at store level and, although it is not impossible to get onto their shelves, it is no mean feat. Choose your target wisely, and make sure that the store actually stock books of your genre; some stores do specialise. Approach the staff member politely, introduce yourself and your purpose and ask to speak to the book buyer or manager, or arrange an appointment. Remember that different stores have different policies regarding independent authors, and respect their decision.
So, if you ARE accepted into a bookstore, what can you expect?
Book stores have three main ways of taking in independently published titles:
Consignment: they accept the books, and shelf them, but you do not get paid until, or unless, they sell. You can, pretty much, ask for the books back at any time (although some contracts may require you to give notice first), and you may be required to pay postage if they need to be delivered. They may require you to take them back after 3-6 months.
Sale or Return: The book store will pay you your wholesale price upfront (usually around a month after receiving the stock), but will agree to stock it for a set period, generally 3-6 months. After that period is over, you may be required to buy back your remaining stock at the amount they paid you for them.
Firm Sale: They pay you up front and they keep the book until it sells. It is highly unlikely that any retailer will agree to this without you proving that the stock will almost certainly sell. And you might find your books in the bargain/clearance bins at some point.
You will also need to determine your wholesale price, and from this your RRP (Recommended Retail Price).
Firstly, determine how much each copy of the book cost you to buy in the first place. You do not want to sell your book below cost, for obvious reasons!
Then you can figure out either how much profit you wish to make for selling the book to the retailer, and how much you would expect their customers to pay for it. For a rough idea of pricing, you might like to look at similar books in a range of stores first, or check out the information on a publisher’s website. Most list the RRP of their titles (just make sure it’s a New Zealand site).
Stores will be looking for a 35-50% margin, and if you are not GST registered, then they will also be taking GST into account.
Therefore, say you wish to charge the retailer $15 per copy of your book.
Firstly, they will add in the GST 15 x 1.15 = $17.25
Then they will add in their profit margin (let’s say 40%) $17.27 x 1.6 = $27.60
So you could set the RRP to $27.99
Whilst your book is in bookstores, it is considered good form not to undercut their pricing when selling direct; you should still charge $27.99 when selling copies to customers yourself.
I have spoken to two of the independent bookstores in Christchurch, and obtained permission to mention them by name.
With stores in Riccarton and the Central City, Scorpio Books are a local institute (they’ve been around almost 40 years) and have two beautiful stores. They are willing to consider independently published books on consignment, for a 3-6 month period. Although they are open to most types of books, they do stock a diverse range of fantasy and have a beautiful children’s section, as well as an indepth non-fiction (especially for “coffee table” books). It is helpful if your book is listed on Nielsen.
Piccadilly Books are a lovely bookstore/post office in Avonhead Mall. They will consider independently published titles on a sale or return basis, for the 3-6 month period. They favour new releases and specialise more in non-fiction and adult fiction, rather than young adult and children’s.
Some bookstores may only accept books via a distribution company. There are very few distribution companies in NZ, and even fewer that deal directly with independent authors (most deal with small printing houses). Indeed, the only one I can name offhand is Nationwide Books, in Oxford, North Canterbury.
- get upset if they turn you down. They are a business and shelf space is at a premium, also, they know their market better than you – if they don’t believe it will sell, then accept that.
- sneak a copy of your book onto the shelf in your local bookstore without their permission/knowledge. Worst case scenario, you could be accused of shop lifting should you try and remove it later. Best case scenario, if a customer ever does take it to the counter to purchase it, it will not scan through the tills, nor will the staff member know what to do with it. Also, you’ll never get paid anything from the sale, so you might as well leave it on a park bench.
- wander into bookstores and ask if they stock your book, without identifying yourself as the author. Whilst some staff members may find this amusing, others find it deceitful and disrespectful.
- wander into a bookstore and harass them for not stocking your book, or not stocking more than 2 copies of your book, or not putting your book in a prominent place, etc. It is their store, and their decision. Respect them.
Self Publishing: Ebooks, who to choose?
Even more attractive than print-on-demand technology is digital – there are no upfront costs, your royalties are generally higher, your book will never go out of print, and it’s cheap enough that readers will be more willing to “take a risk” and buy it. But with all these digital players out there, which site is best for you?
Well, the advantage with digital books is that you don’t have to decide on just one site, you can join them all if you have the time or the inclination! But is it really worth it? Here, with a bit of help from my writer friends, I’m going to look at a few of the major ebook distributors so you can decide whether to keep it exclusive, or spread it around.
Kindle Direct Publishing:
KDP are probably the biggest distributor of ebooks on the interwebs. I have three titles listed via Kindle and my sales have been slow, but I have made some (although not enough to reach the payment threshold).
What they offer:
- Free to join.
- Straightforward set-up.
- Pay royalties direct into your bank account (EFT).
- Popular marketplace.
- You can run promotions on your book: free days or countdowns (if enrolled in their KDP select).
- Entering your NZ tax number reduces the 30% taxation. Do not require US ITIN/EIN.
- Their ebook format is unique to their site (use a mobi converter or Scrivener).
- They do not keep a running total of earnings– you have to maintain your own records.
- Cannot set title to be permanently free (but there are ways around that, see below).
- You need to give Amazon exclusive rights if you want to take advantage of their special promotions (ie: not sell the ebook anywhere else).
What Smashwords offer:
- Free to join.
- A range of digital formats: epub, mobi, pdf and more.
- Their infamous “meat grinder” which turns your original file into the aforementioned formats automatically.
- You can price your book as “free” (if you set your book to free here, Amazon will price match).
- Will pay out via Paypal ($10 threshold).
- You can offer pre-orders.
- The meat grinder translator has issues with some format files (and instruction manual is written for Microsoft Word, not OpenOffice).
- Does not seem to be very popular with buyers.
- Seem to require a US tax number to avoid a 30% taxation on earnings (reduces to 10%).
- Smashword’s layout looks cheap and non-professional (petty, I know, but I do judge books – and websites – by their “covers”.)
When I first joined Kobo, it was really hard getting your book up on their website. You had to format everything, create a metadata file and upload it via FTP. Then they introduced Writers Life and things became so much simpler. I have had the epub (with colour illustrations) version of Fellowship listed on Kobo for years, but I just re-trialed the site by uploading Aroha’s Grand Adventure as well. The process was so quick and painless it was wonderful. Of course, in several years I’ve sold exactly 2 copies of Fellowship, but ah well, might as well make it available, right?
What Kobo offers:
- Free to join.
- Extremely easy and straightforward platform, allowing you to upload your epub formatted files, or translating alternative formats. It’s even easier than Amazon!
- Allows you to set your price in NZ$.
- Pay via EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) into your bank account after you reach the US$50 threshold (well, 45 days after).
- Royalties are 45/75% depending on sale price.
- Canadian company means no tax withheld and no ITIN required.
- Does not provide ISBN, but you don’t actually need them for ebooks. And you can get one here for free.
- Not as popular a marketplace as Amazon.
Wheelers: If your book is released in traditional form, it will automatically be listed on Wheelers book site, but ebooks need to be uploaded separately. Wheelers ebooks are available to schools and libraries. I signed up with Aroha’s Grand Adventure and get a lovely email once a month telling me I have no sales. The process is not too difficult as long as you have an ISBN, an epub file, metadata and a cover image, but is more time consuming (for little reward). Joining is done via email and involves filling in other forms as well.
iBooks: I have not looked too heavily into iBooks, as they seem to require you to have a Mac computer.From the website, their process looks fairly straightforward and very visually appealing, but appears more aimed at text books and pictorials.
Google Books: Are not accepting new authors at this time. Obviously more targeted at publishers rather than independent authors.
Note: ISBN numbers are linked to formats, so if you have your book available in paperback, hardback, and epub they should all have different ISBN numbers. However, most ebook sites don’t require them and will give you their own number instead.
Self-publishing: Who to choose?
With the increasing development of print-on-demand technology, there are quite a collection of online companies offering independent publishing, including small independent publishing houses and more major players, like CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, Lulu, Blurb.
(Note: this post is about physical format books, publishing ebooks will be dealt with at a later date).
So who to choose, and where to go?
If you are short on time and not-so technologically savvy, then there is the temptation to go to one of the small publishing houses. These are numerous and offer you various things for, sometimes quite substantial, amounts of money. Personally, I’m a bit wary of these, considering them a little too close to the vanity publishers of the past, and have not dealt with any directly myself. If I were to, I would do substantial research and I recommend that you do the same. Some offer you little more advantage than going it alone would, and at considerable cost. What they may offer, however, is a strong network of support and potential reviewers. Look into them, google the name to see if others have dealt with them and whether they have fared positively or not; choose some titles at random, read the blurbs and author bios, and see how they’re faring on sites such as GoodReads. It would also pay to look up the titles on Amazon and Book Depository, to see if they are offered for sale there. As an indie-published author, much of your sales will come through the internet marketplaces, so make sure they will be listed on the major sites! Ultimately, indie-publishing is fairly easy and the more DIY sites as CreateSpace are remarkably straightforward, so I would be most interested in the marketing opportunities that the various indie-houses offer. If they expect you do do the majority of it themselves, do they really deserve your money?
It would also be useful to see if they offer their titles on Netgalley. Netgalley is a site where booksellers, book bloggers, and librarians, can request advance ebook reading copies (eARC). Having your book listed there as an indie author is extremely expensive, but if you are part of a publishing house, they may list it there for you. Being listed on Netgalley will get you reviews (not necessarily favourable ones) and get you greater exposure. This may have an impact on future sales… or it may not.
For the more technologically savvy, you might like to take on a more-DIY approach. Now, these ones tend to be cheaper money-wise (although most offer added bells and whistles for a fee) but are considerably more time-expensive.
CreateSpace operate through Amazon’s marketplace. As Amazon is one of the biggest online book retailer at this present point in time, I highly recommend them. My three novels have been printed through them, and I have found the process to be straightforward and the outcome relatively professional.
What CreateSpace offer:
- A straightforward set-up dashboard (including templates)
- No upfront cost – you only pay for what you order (which could be 1 book or 100).
- Your book will be available through Amazon’s various marketplaces.
- You can use their ISBNs, or supply your own.
- Large variety of book sizes (all given in inches, so have a ruler and converter handy!)
- Professional looking books: bright white paper, good clarity of text and good colour reproduction on covers (but see note below re: cover curl).
- Free expanded distribution (which includes The Book Depository and Fishpond).
- Book services (for additional fees) for those not quite comfortable “going it alone”.
- Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
- Despite the expanded distribution offer, your book is unlikely to be stocked in physical bookstores.
- Marketing and promotions are entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
- Books experience a fair amount of “cover curl”, which means they show wear and tear fairly quickly. This was particularly noticeable in earlier copies, but may be remedied now. (Visible in photo above).
- CreateSpace books printed from two locations: New York and South Carolina. I have generally found the South Carolina ones to have better colour clarity.
- Only pay by cheque, and only when you reach $100.
- Do not offer hardbacks, nor colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).
- Shipping is slow, but never as slow as they estimate! Generally allow 3-4 weeks.
A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via CreateSpace has a cost price of around US$3.25 (~NZ$4.80).
Lulu were one of the earliest players in the print-on-demand game, but have fallen somewhat peripheral to CreateSpace. They offer their own marketplace, and also claim to distribute via ibooks, Nook and Amazon, and their titles appear to be on The Book Depository and Fishpond as well (mine isn’t, however, which indicates that there is an option I failed to select). I have published a hardback version of one of my novels via them, and found it to be a bit disappointing: newsprint style pages, the text perhaps a little too dark and random weird marks at the end of some chapters (which I’m pretty sure are not due to poor formatting on my part, but I could be wrong).
What Lulu offer:
- Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books and calendars in a range of sizes and binding types.
- No set-up fees, you only pay for what you order.
- Downloadable templates that you can cut and paste your story into.
- Free ISBNs (or you can use your own).
- Fairly straightforward set-up.
- Additional services available for additional fees (including marketing).
- Regular discounts on your purchases.
- Your book is available on various online marketplaces, including The Book Depository, Fishpond and Amazon (this depends on your book size/format).
- Will pay revenue into Paypal.
- The books do not appear to look quite as professional as CreateSpace’s, ink is slightly too thick/dark. Cream paper is cheapest – and looks it.
- Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
- Marketing and promotions are (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
- Lulu is a less-frequented marketplace than Amazon.
- Slightly more expensive.
- Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).
A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Lulu has a cost price of around Au$5.25 for cream, Au$7.40 for white (~NZ$5.82/$8.20).
Blurb have been around a long time — I published my first art books through them (they’re still available, if anyone is interested) and now they offer regular print-on-demand as well. Colour reproduction in their photo books was very good.
What Blurb offer:
- Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books, magazines, ebooks, in a range of sizes.
- Built in program, Bookwright, to create your pictorial book (or magazine). (Note: is BAD for mostly text stories!)
- The books look really nice.
- Offer “Economy colour printing” for reasonable rates (have yet to check quality).
- Free distribution via IngramSpark (“the world’s largest distributor of books”), depending on format and creation method.
- Colour and black and white formats available.
- Free ISBNs.
- No set-up fees, you pay for what you order.
- Will pay revenue into Paypal.
- Ship from Australia, so faster and (potentially) cheaper.
- Regularly send promo codes that allow for discounts.
- Only three sizes of trade paperback to choose from.
- Once your book is on the Global Distribution, you cannot make changes without jumping through hoops.
- BookWright works best for pictorial books, takes a lot of fiddling with text books (better to use a PDF).
- Somewhat more expensive.
- Marketing and promotions is (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
- Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).
A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Blurb has a cost price of around US$4.25 for cream, US$10.39 for white (~NZ$6.27/$15.33).
I have neither published nor purchased an IngramSpark title, so my knowledge of them is limited to what I can read on their website. They appear to be a bit more upmarket and discerning than, say, CreateSpace. Due to the upfront, per title cost, I am unlikely to try IngramSpark (especially since Blurb allegedly distribute via them anyway, and they don’t charge a fee). If you want more information, I suggest you google “IngramSpark VS CreateSpace”.
What IngramSpark offer:
- A wide range of options, including books, graphic novels, picture books, in a range of trim sizes.
- They promise distribution through a range of sources, including actual bookstores.
- Will convert PDF files into ebooks.
- Offer promotional services (inclusion in newsletter etc)— not sure if at additional cost or not.
- Offer free editorial review via Pressque (worth US$75), this is apparently done with a 48 hour turnaround. I am a little dubious.
- Templates for cover and interior. At additional cost.
- You are required to provide your own ISBNs. You can buy them via the site, but DON’T, because in New Zealand you can acquire your unique ISBNs for free.
- Require you to upload your own PDFs and cover designs (DIY approach).
- $49 set-up fee per title. I believe there is also an annual fee, but that doesn’t appear to be on their FAQ.
- You pay for things, like templates, that other sites offer for free.
A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via IngramSpark has a cost price of around US$3.86 for cream. (~NZ$5.70).
Note: I have made no mention of royalties, these obviously vary between the sites, but are mainly determined by the price you set as your sale price. In regards to sales, I’ve made 56% of my minimum payment threshold via CreateSpace, and nothing via Lulu or Blurb (my books on Blurb are sold at cost price, and my Lulu hardback is really expensive and not listed outside their website).
In summary, CreateSpace seems the most popular and cheapest option, whilst also providing the most straightforward distribution and access to a large online marketplace. Blurb produces very fine looking books, and is probably the easiest for the non-technologically savvy (plus the BookWright program is fun to play with). It also offers to distribute via IngramSpark, which might be handy for getting into physical bookstores. I fully intend to try them again in the future, possibly with a colour book of some description. So, stay tuned!
More tutorials to come on publishing via CreateSpace.
Why Self Publish?
In these days of print-on-demand and ebook technology, self (or independent) publishing has never been easier. No longer need we writers employ agents, or write query letters – now it is possible to write the story, edit it and put it up for the world to read.
But should we do that?
I made the decision in 2011, following my “win” in 2010’s NaNoWriMo, to independently publish my novel: Aroha’s Grand Adventure. This was, in part, because one of my prizes was a free proof copy via Amazon’s CreateSpace program. I wrote the novel over the month of November, creating the illustrations as I went, and received my first proof early in 2011. The book was available on Amazon by July 1st, 2011.
Over the next two years, I went on to release my second book, Midsummer Knight’s Quest (which had actually been written prior to Aroha’s) and the first in my Lemur Saga, Fellowship of the Ringtails. So, aside from the lure of the free book, what were the other reasons that inspired me to avoid the traditional publishing route altogether?
1. Rejection letters: OK, so I confess, I didn’t really try too hard to take the trad route. I DID submit my manuscript for Midsummer Knight’s Quest to my favourite children’s publishers, Chicken House, but with little hope and no success – although I do have a lovely rejection letter.
2. I felt my stories were a bit unconventional and unlikely to appeal to the publishing houses’ criteria. Midsummer Knight’s Quest was extremely long and broke some narrator conventions. I knew from the start that I was doing this, and was not entirely comfortable with it, but could see no way to adjust it within the plot. After several suggestions to split it into two books, I’ve currently withdrawn it from sale. As for Fellowship of the Ringtails, it seemed unlikely, even with the success of the Madagascar movies, that any of the “big 5” publishers would take a book about lemurs seriously and even if they did, they’d likely try to force it into the children’s section, meaning I would have to tone down the prose.
3. I wanted to keep control of my stories: if a publishing house purchases your story, it becomes their property. They chose the cover, the illustrators, and may make adjustments. In smaller publishing houses, you may be asked for your opinion, but generally speaking, your book is now out of your hands and your control.
Another advantage of independent publishing, especially via Print-on-Demand technology, is that your book never goes out of print – it’s available for people to purchase for as long as Amazon (or whomever you choose to print through) exist. The “shelf life” in a physical store, unless your book is particularly successful or you’re a popular author, is about 6 months. That’s it. After which it will likely be returned, and pulped, or cycled into the clearance bins. Bookstores cannot afford to keep stock on the shelf that isn’t selling. Most publishing houses will do smallish print runs for unknown/debut authors and, if they don’t sell well, they won’t print more. Of course, with ebooks this is a moot point: ebooks will never go out of print, they don’t take up shelf space or gather dust, and they don’t get shop soiled with time.
That’s not to say indie publishing is without its faults though, for there are many. There are no gatekeepers to indie publishing, so it becomes harder to know what is good and what is not, and some people may choose to self-edit instead of hiring a professional (by way of keeping costs down), which may lead a story to be prone to plot holes and typos or grammatical errors. I do not recommend self-editing. If you can afford it, hire a professional; if you cannot afford it, give proof copies to your grammar-nut friends and encourage them to read it with pencil in hand (they won’t be able to resist correcting the ones they find). But seriously, the editing of your story could make or break your success. Reviewers can, and will, point out the poor editing, and that makes it look very unprofessional to any potential readers.
Also, self-publishing is a lot of work, with very little financial reward. Not only do you have to write the book, but also edit it/have it edited, have a cover designed, format the manuscript so that it looks professional, figure out how to get it up for sale, work through your proof copies to find the typos that were missed and then, once it is finally finished and available for sale, figure out a way to actually sell it.
Because that’s the biggest problem with independent publishing, getting your book noticed. If anyone can do it, and everyone does, then there are millions of books available for sale. How do you make yours stand out among the crowd?
Well, step one is: make your book as professional and interesting and as well-written and edited as possible. Your book must stand by its own merits.
Step two is marketing, and you can learn more about that by attending our May workshop.
Ultimately: if you have a strong, well-written and highly commercial novel, there is no benefit to you rushing the process and self-publishing. If you believe your novel can sit next to James Patterson or Brandon Sanderson or another well-renowned genre-novelist, then there’s no harm in polishing your manuscript, penning a query letter and submitting to whichever of the publishing houses can best fill your needs. If you end up collecting rejection letters, then so be it, you can always fall back on self-publishing! If your novel is, however, a bit avant-garde, non-mainstream, unconventional, or you feel will only appeal to a limited market, then by all means, prepare for the complex and sometimes frustrating journey that is self-publishing.
Do I regret self-publishing? No. I don’t write for the money (which is good, because Amazon won’t pay out until you’ve earned more than $100 in any one Amazon store, and guess what – I’m only halfway there). I write for the characters and I write for my fans. And, most of all, I write for myself.
I do, however, regret rush-publishing Aroha’s Grand Adventure, because I believe, of all my novels, that it had the most commercial promise. And because I was still ironing out typos for months after the initial release. Don’t rush the process!
We will speak more about the self-publishing process in following blog posts, but you might like to check out this previous one on creating a mobi ebook.
Angela Oliver is an author and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer. She has two titles available on Amazon, both in physical and ebook format, and many more gathering dust on her hard drive.